Darwin Issac Lazo-Lopez admitted in court Wednesday that a July 2016 traffic crash that badly injured a 10-year-old girl was his fault because he was distracted while trying to answer his cellphone.
He also acknowledged that he deleted two text messages from his cellphone after the crash in an effort to hide the fact that he was distracted by his phone when his Ford pickup slammed into the back of a Honda sedan in the 900 block of Lake Shore Drive.
The 32-year-old Lazo-Lopez’s admission closed out testimony in the initial phase of his trial in Waco’s 19th State District Court. He is charged with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The girl riding in the backseat of the car suffered serious head injuries, was flown to a Temple hospital and was hospitalized seven weeks. She has recovered, but still suffers a few lingering effects from the collision, her mother said Wednesday.
Lazo-Lopez’s attorney, Seth Sutton, attempted to call the girl’s mother, Destiny Rogers, as a witness Wednesday, but Judge Ralph Strother did not allow her testimony after objections from prosecutors Staci Scaman and Amanda Smith.
In a brief preview of her proposed testimony outside the presence of the jury, Rogers said that her and her daughter’s faith and their hearts have allowed them to forgive Lazo-Lopez and “move forward.”
Scaman objected that Rogers’ feelings of forgiveness are not relevant to whether Lazo-Lopez is guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and are more appropriate for punishment-phase testimony, should the trial proceed to that point.
Lazo-Lopez, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, testified with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. He said he was driving on Lake Shore Drive about 6 p.m. when he got a text on his cellphone. He said he did not read it, but a few seconds later his phone rang and he tried to answer it. He said he struggled to swipe the bar over to accept the call and slammed into the back of the Honda just as his friend answered the phone.
Waco officers testified that the Honda was having mechanical problems and was driving very slowly with the hazard lights on when Lazo-Lopez struck them from behind with his truck.
He said he felt “super horrible” about causing the crash and helped others lift the young girl from the crumpled backseat, getting her blood on his pants.
He said he lied to police about using his phone at the time of the collision, adding he would tell truth if he could do it over. He also admitted deleting the text messages from his phone once he helped the girl out and returned to his truck.
Lazo-Lopez also admitted to Scaman under cross-examination that he was driving without a license.
“So the moment you turned on that vehicle, you were already breaking the law,” she said.
Lazo-Lopez said he considered driving without a license a necessity so he could get to work.
Waco police Detective John Clark and other officers testified that Lazo-Lopez told several versions of what caused the crash, including a claim the sun was in his eyes. Officers quickly ruled out that possibility, he said. Clark said there were no skid marks from brakes at the crash site, making it likely Lazo-Lopez never saw the other car before he struck it.
Attorneys in the case will give jury summations when the trial enters its third day Wednesday morning. Lazo-Lopez has elected to have Strother, not the jury, assess his punishment should the jury convict him. If convicted, he will be given credit for the three years he has been jailed awaiting trial.
If he is sent to prison, Lazo-Lopez faces deportation when he is released, officials said.
The indictment against Lazo-Lopez charges he caused the accident by driving at an excessive speed, and/or by failing to yield the right of way, and/or by failing to keep a proper lookout for another motor vehicle, and/or by texting while driving.